Do we make a difference as lawyers?
o Relevancy. Big business says our skill set is not unique. Can be easily outsourced to non-lawyers more cheaply and efficiently
o Legislatures throughout the country are slashing funding for the courts. The federal government is slashing funding for the courts.
o Legal aid programs are being cut or eliminated.
o Lawyers are more relevant than ever. They make a difference.
I. “Seeking liberty and justice” needs to do directly.
· The cacophonous din of prejudice and ignorance tells us this is a platitude. But if we listen we hear the whispers of justice all around us.
· It is heard when we go to court for some. When we write a letter. When we take a phone call at 6 PM on a Tuesday and give advice at no charge to someone when they desperately need help. Or when we care about someone who has never been cared for in their lives.
· The disadvantaged. Those who were shoved to the back of the line from the money they were born and have been held back be it through lack of education, lack of parents or any other kind of opportunity.
· Can one person make a difference? Rosa Parks played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Freedom Riders together and collectively. “Tank man” at Tiananmen Square in China in 1989.
· Many good projects that have helped a lot of people: Wills for Heroes, Project Grace, Legal Link and Legal Feeding Frenzy.
· If we don’t, no one will. Legal Aid is being slashed. The legislature isn’t helping things. It is up to us.
· We need to do something about it. In the words of that immortal philosopher, Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
What can I do as chair?
II. Innocence Project
· Not everyone begins in a good place. Many are, to use a Jeffrey Archer title, “a prisoner of birth.” If you are in this room, chances are you started your life well. You were born into a good family. You went to the right schools. Your succeeded before you were ever born.
· Not everyone has it so easy.
· Too many people are wrongfully in prison and wrongfully on death row. “The thing is, you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” Edwin Meese, AG, 1986. Actual Innocence.
· Our state and every other state have tortured histories. Daryl Hunt. Ronald Cotton. Forgiving and gracious.
· What part can we play?
· My initiative is to work with the Innocence Project. We can do research, screen cases or whatever else needs to be done. We can play a role.
· Why are we doing this? We are giving hope to people, and possibly our efforts will make a difference years down the road.
· Count of Monte Cristo “Has count not just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words—‘wait’ and ‘hope’?” Edmund Dantes wrongfully imprisoned.
III. More inclusion (“navigating the tides of change”
· Embrace out differences in order to appreciate our common humanity.
· We need more diversity.
· Not all minorities are the same. Different needs. LGBT, African American, Hispanic/Latino and Asian American issues.
· Too often groups have had to wait for justice, to wait for equality. We need to lead the way.
· Lawyers should lead the way. We should not be behind or sit with the status quo.
· “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Thomas Jefferson.
· We need to hear the whispers of justice and liberty and to do our part to make them more than whispers.
· Everyone matters. Everyone has value, and it is our job, as lawyers, to protect people and do what is right.
· If we don’t know one will.